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Lions Roar : January 2011
SHAMBHALA SUN jANUAry 2011 22 of tonglen, “sending and taking.” in tibetan, tong means “to send,” and len means “to get.” With a basic understanding of this practice, we begin to draw in the pain of others and send out goodness. We can practice this exchange in many ways. For instance, we can do it specifically for someone who is ill, taking in that person’s suffering and claustrophobia and breathing out spa- ciousness. We do that by visualizing the in-breath as heavy and the out-breath as light, drawing in negative energy and sending out love. at first it is important that we take this dualistic approach, because we can use what we see “out there” to incite compassion “in here.” in the same way, it is good that we have emotions, be- cause then we have something to work with. With our breath, we can take in aggression and give out peace. We can breathe in pain and breathe out relief. that’s why human birth is so precious: it provides us with the attributes to go on the path. scholars and yogis have divided the ego into fifty-one levels of thought patterns and emotions. they’re listed in several cat- egories, including universal patterns such as form and feeling, occasional patterns such as rapture, unwholesome patterns such as recklessness and lack of shame, and wholesome patterns like faith, love, and compassion. love and compassion are wholesome because when we expe- rience them—even at an ordinary level—some kind of openness takes place. those emotions are a fault line of the ego—when we feel them, the ego breaks down a little and we begin to see that our sense of “me” is not airtight. Even though love is an emotion and is often connected with someone we want, or who makes us happy, it contains some quality of relaxing and letting go. compassion works in the same way, poking holes in the seeming solidity of self and other. tonglen is a very potent practice that helps us develop con- fidence in kindness and compassion. it brings sanity to us and to others because it provides a practical way of working with our mind. For example, if we are calmly practicing tonglen for someone who is close to us, we are not spinning out of control with worry about what could happen to them. therefore, the meditation is a way to actually bring some sanity to us and the other person. When we begin to do tonglen practice, the question arises: who or what is sending out, and who is taking in? through practicing mindfulness, or shamatha, we have established peace. now, through practicing insight, or vipashyana, we begin to de- velop wisdom. We begin to realize that we can’t actually find the mind we have tamed. Where exactly is it? is the mind in the body? is it in the eyes? is it in the feelings? Where is the mind that is following the breath? Where is it com- ing from? Where is it going? Where is its space? We can’t really say that it’s here or it’s there. nevertheless, there is definitely a process of experiencing being here— experiencing wildness of mind, and expe- riencing peace. Where is that peace? if i’m meditating, i feel tranquil. Where is that tranquility? as we progress in our meditation, emp- tiness becomes more apparent. Emptiness means that there is no inherent existence. Emptiness and egolessness are very simi- lar in that way. Emptiness is empty of our assumptions, and it is full of compassion. We realize that assumptions are the basis of most of our experiences, and we dis- cover that the mind and the world are actually empty of those assumptions. dis- covering our selfless nature is freedom. sometimes we misunderstand empti- ness to mean that nothing exists, which is nihilism. a more accurate perspective is that without emptiness, we cannot have form, and without form we cannot have emptiness. they are inseparable. Exchanging self for other, we realize the self is empty. then we realize that other is empty, too. that is how true giving and taking can happen. Exchanging oneself for other is the point where relative and absolute truth meet. the whole notion of self and other starts dissolving. if there’s somebody sending, who’s receiving? as our meditation progresses, we begin to see egolessness—we can’t find any in- herent thing. compassion seems endless and boundless, but where does compas- sion come from? Where does insight come from? Where is this mind? actually, we all have the capacity to know, but we can’t completely understand unless we practice meditation. Mind is empty and luminous: this is its nature. the Mahayana teachings say that with the right view, we can utilize certain aspects of our emotions in order to bring out this natural wisdom. as we develop love and compassion through the practice of tonglen, glimmers of wisdom begin to shine through. ♦ When we buy an article of clothing, it feels foreign. Then it begins to feel familiar as “my shirt.” It’s other, but the ego solidifies it as self.